It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
I hope you all sang that in your head just now. In just 2 days time, the 2023 Big Ten Tournament will tip off at Chicago’s United Center. It was a rather bizarre conference season (Nebraska not in last!) in which just about every team had to wait until the last game was over to see where they would finish in the standings. We saw some very dramatic finishes with more than a few buzzer beaters. With 9 of the 14 teams finishing with either 9, 10, or 11 wins, there certainly seems to be a higher than normal amount of parity in the B1G this year. And that should only mean we are about to be treated to 13 games full of drama and excitement. So let’s take a quick look at all 14 teams, starting with the teams that will kick things off on Wednesday and going all the way to regular season champion,
Zach Edey Purdue.
14. Minnesota - The Golden Gophers had a season to forget, winning just two games in conference, one on a buzzer-beating 3-point shot, and 8 overall. They finished at or near the bottom of the B1G in most statistical categories. We don’t need to spend more time on them.
13. Ohio State - The Buckeyes are one of the two teams that lost to Minnesota so how good can they be? That said, they definitely hung around with MSU this past weekend and refused to go away. Surprisingly, OSU has taken the 2nd most FGAs and has the 3rd highest FG% among Big Ten teams. In fact, judging by their stats compared to the rest of the conference, you would think they would have done better this year. Looking at the scores of their individual games, they have had several close losses (5 points or less), while their wins have tended to be a bit bigger. That is the sign of a team that can’t pull off the tight games.
12. Wisconsin - Now we start getting into the logjam. The Badgers finished 9-11 in conference play. They only lost by 2 points to Purdue in their penultimate (yes I really did just use that word) game. But they have the 2nd lowest FG%, take the 2nd fewest FTs per game and make them at the 3rd lowest clip, and they get the fewest rebounds and blocks. Basically, on offense, go inside against them; on defense, stay in front of them, don’t worry about any misdirection from them as they don’t scheme very well, and let them miss shots.
11. Nebraska - The Cornhuskers had one of the best finishes to the regular season of any B1G team, winning 6 of their last 8, including 2 road wins. Their victory at Iowa on Sunday was crucial to MSU getting the double-bye. Also, we like Coach Hoiberg. This team should beat Minnesota, and then they get Maryland, who they split the season series with. Keisei Tominaga has been one of the biggest revelations this season. In Nebraska’s final 8 games, he has gone over 20 points six times, including one 30-point game. He is playing with confidence right now.
10. Penn State - The Nittany Lions are led by Jalen Pickett, who finished 5th in scoring and 1st in assists in the conference. They also take the most 3-point shots and convert them at the 2nd best rate. On the other hand, they take the fewest free-throws, and get the fewest steals, the 2nd fewest rebounds and 2nd fewest blocks. They have won 5 of their last 6, including that beautiful put-back buzzer-beater by Camren Wynter to beat Maryland in their finale. They play Illinois on Thursday, a team they beat by double digits twice this season.
9. Rutgers - The Scarlet Knights are going into the BTT a bit cold, having lost 6 of 8. Analyzing their stats would not be fair as they have become a completely different team since the season-ending injury to Mawot Mag. Unfortunately for us MSU fans, this probably makes them an easy opponent for um in the 8/9 game. Good thing is that that game is on at noon on Thursday and none of us should have to watch it.
8. um - Their coach is not a good person, and possibly a worse coach. Kobe Bufkin has turned out to be a pretty good baller. Gunther Dachundson is going to get a double-double against Rutgers. Then Purdue will end their season.
7. Illinois - As stated above, the Illini open the BTT against a team that swept them in the regular season, Penn State. If there is any reason for optimism for them in that game, it could be that they do have a higher scoring average and a lower opponents’ scoring average than PSU, and they pull down a lot more rebounds per contest. Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer has championship experience and should be able to provide some leadership.
6. Maryland - The Terrapins have a pretty impressive Big Ten resume, having gone 3-1 against the top 3 teams - Purdue, Northwestern, and Indiana. Then again, they have losses to Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. Statistically, they are near the middle of the conference in just about every single category, except for assists, where they are dead last. And they turn it over nearly as much as they get an assist. This team isn’t doing anything fancy in terms of offensive playcalling. They don’t move the ball very well and end up with a lot of isolation plays and late-shot-clock FGAs.
5. Iowa - The Hawkeyes ran into a red-hot Nebraska team in their finale on Sunday, which cost them the last double-bye in the BTT. But as we know, this is a team that can get red-hot itself shooting the ball. In fact, they are the highest scoring team in the B1G by a considerable margin; the difference between them and the 2nd place team is larger than the difference between teams 2 and 9. However, their coach is 0-1 in staring contests. They get to play the winner of the OSU/Wisconsin game, and if they get through there, they will have to stave off a revenge game from...
4. Michigan State - The Spartans have the Big Ten’s highest 3-point FG% and FT%. If it weren’t for the (insert adjective of your choice) ending against Iowa, MSU would be on a four game winning streak right now. As it is, their close to the season was enough to get them back into “others receiving votes” territory in this week’s AP Poll. As you all know, this offense is peaking right now. Unfortunately, as Coach Izzo will attest, the defense is not. If the hot shooting - over 50% from 3 in the past 3 games - can continue, this team has the capability to overcome any defensive shortcomings and beat anyone.
3. Indiana - The Hoosiers swept Purdue this season, though they were swept by NW, the team they could face in the BTT semifinals. Their star, Trayce Jackson-Davis, is one of the best players in the country, and he does everything for this team except, apparently, shoot 3s (not a single attempt all season). They do foul more than any other B1G team and are near the bottom of the conference in turnovers. Having the rest advantage against whoever they play Friday night, I expect them to be playing on Saturday, probably against...
2. Northwestern - The Wildcats definitely surprised a lot of people this year, including MSU, who they beat in East Lansing back in December. Contrary to Ohio State, who one would believe was better just by looking at their stats, NW looks like a team that would have performed worse than they did. They have the lowest FG% in the Big Ten. But this is a team that has mastered the art of slowing down the game, giving up the fewest FGA to their opponents. If an opponent can increase the tempo of a game and make NW run, it has a chance to defeat this team.
1. Purdue - At one point earlier this season, the Boilermakers looked like an unstoppable force. It was January before they lost a game, being among the very last undefeated teams in the nation, and even that one was a buzzer-beater. But they have lost 4 of 8 down the stretch, so teams may be figuring out how to beat them. Obviously, there is Zach Edey, so I won’t elaborate on that. Two things need to be done to knock off the #1 team in the conference. First, you need to be disciplined on defense and avoid committing fouls; they score more from the FT line than anyone else in conference. And second, you need to catch fire on your shots, as this is not a team that sends their opponents to the charity line. This writer is predicting that no one will accomplish both of those two things, and Purdue will be adding a BTT banner to go along with their regular season one.
Enjoy the games later this week. Tell us how you think the BTT will unfold in the comments. Oh, and answer this quick survey question.
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